How to Buy a Tomato

Grocery list:
1) Almonds (sorry, California)
2) Tomatoes
3) …

…not so fast, #3.  It may take me a good 10 minutes to decide on which type of tomatoes to buy in a grocery store.  Though I appear passive, this is not 600 seconds of hesitation.  Inside my mind roils a heated, complex, detailed battle over which tomato is better for the environment, for society (especially the lesser-represented sectors), for my personal health, and for my grad school-shrunk wallet, as well as which of these sectors makes top on my Moral Priority List du jour.

Yes, I know I should be buying my tomatoes at the farmer’s market.  Or growing them myself.  Let’s pretend I’m choosing convenience over logical good choices today: minus 5 life points.  Moving on.

“What If Tomatoes Had Toes?” is an essential question not covered in this article. For an in-depth analysis:


First question I ask myself as it begins to get chilly outside: is it even tomato season?  Were these grown in a hothouse down the street, or shipped from the southern hemisphere?  If the latter, I’m essentially flinging greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere.  If the former, I bet petroleum is oozing from the plastics used to construct the greenhouses, or at least into the water table near which the oil was mined (and out the tailpipes of the trucks used to ship it to the processing plant, the plastic sheet fabrication plant, the packaging plant, the storefront).  Which is better for my local environment, the grower’s ecosystem, the environment as a whole?

Next up: who picked these tomatoes?  Were they paid a fair wage while working in healthy conditions?  Are my friendly grocers getting the same?  Would using self-check out, if I ever get to the check-out, make life more efficient, or antisocially take jobs from teenagers working through college?  Are the brands of tomatoes grown by a conscientious organization, or a business out to kill local economies, widen the class gap, and homogenize the world?

Also: me.  My health and my thin, frugal-grad-student wallet.  Should I avoid the chemicals and go organic?  As my mother often says, pay your farmer now or your pharmacist later.  And cherry tomatoes are definitely on many top ten lists of “You Better Buy This Organic, Or Say Hello to Cancer” (other tomatoes rank #33 on the Environmental Working Group’s current guide).  But “organic”: wouldn’t that purchase just condone a greenwashed, expensive, unfair labeling market that’s a poor excuse for doing one’s research on the brand?  And how do I feel about personally consuming GMOs?

Alright.  So what if I splurge on the organic heirloom from Middleton, CT.  Do I buy the slightly damaged, ugliest one to promote the idea that we need variety in our fruits and veggies, and that striving for homogenized, absolutely red and round tomatoes is wasteful and harmful (since diversity is generally a very good thing)?  Or would my unannounced individual decision go unnoticed?

Ten minutes later, I am still breathing processed air while procrastinating on my work and homework, still standing still, and now very close to seriously considering the idea of definitely eventually deciding something at some point.  Then my decision roulette kicks in, aided by hunger, and, weighing my good against society’s, I grab a selection of fruit and run like hell to the war-torn, carbon-footprint-heavy display of bananas.

This is why my grocery shopping takes a while.



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